Jeremy McGrath was a believer in the
benefits of a kidney belt.
REQUIEM FOR THE KIDNEY
I’ve just returned to racing after
taking 20 years off, and I was
surprised to discover that almost no
one wears a kidney belt anymore.
What happened to the kidney belt?
Does it actually do anything?
It is true that from the 1970s
to the 1990s every rider wore a
kidney belt. In fact, when Bob
Hannah owned HRP, he designed
race pants with a kidney belt built
in; however, fashion trumped
common sense in the mid-1990s and
riders stopped wear kidney belts.
There is no real reason why the
kidney belt fell by the wayside,
because there are more benefits to
wearing one than going sans-a-belt.
The casual spectator can easily see
the visible layers of protection that a
motocrosser wears: helmet, goggles,
gloves, pants, neck braces and boots.
And, with a little investigation, he
will quickly recognize the below-the-
surface extras, such as knee braces,
All important stuff, but not all well
understood. The most misunderstood
of all protective equipment is the
kidney belt. Even its name sounds
cryptic. Why isn’t it called a spleen
belt? Lower intestine belt? Or blad-
der belt? After all, if a kidney belt
protects your kidneys, it must protect
other internal organs also. But, which
ones and how much? Truth be told,
the name kidney belt is a misnomer
of gargantuan proportions. The belt
got its name in the glory days of
motorcycle racing when sports
medicine was in its infancy. The
name stuck and earned the kidneys a
place in the motocross pantheon.
What are kidneys? And why do
they deserve a belt of their own?
Kidneys are bean-shaped organs
about the size of your fist that are
located in the middle of your back,
right below the rib cage, one on each
side of your spine. The kidneys are
embedded in a mass of fatty tissue.
They are very small by weight, but
they receive 20 percent of the blood
pumped by the heart. The kidneys
require such a large amount of blood
in order to maintain the volume of
water in your body, excrete waste,
level the acid/base in the blood and
support the production of red blood
Kidney belts are generally made
from elastic fabric and Velcro. They
are thicker at the back and narrower
at the front. They stretch around the
lowest part of the back and the waist
region, usually fastening at the front.
When purchasing a kidney belt,
sizing is as simple as buying a pair
of pants. All brands are slightly
different, but they should fasten
securely and tightly around the waist
area without constricting breathing.
To understand a kidney belt,
you have to first understand your
kidneys (spleen, bladder, stomach,
intestines and other internal organs).
Your kidneys are not connected to
any strong structures but instead
are nestled inside fatty tissue. They
float. This means that they are easily
moved and jiggled around. Think
of them as martini olives in a jar of
fluid. When riding, the olives bounce
around inside the jar. A kidney belt,
when properly fastened, helps reduce
the amount of movement of your
organs. According to sports trainer
Jeff Spencer, “Kidney belts create a
circumferential uniform inward pres-
sure against the body’s vital organs,
which includes the kidneys. The
benefit of the belt is that it adds a
level of support to all the organs in
the pelvic bowl—kidney, liver,
spleen, colon, small intestine,
appendix, adrenal glands, spinal
cord—and minimizes the cumulative
effects of the fatiguing vibration,
pounding and compression sent
throughout the body when riding,
landing off jumps, going through
whoops, falling and engine vibration.
Anything that vibrates the body over
extended periods of time wears the
body out prematurely.”
In truth, the primary task of a
kidney belt is to help strengthen
the muscles in your lower lumbar
area. But, “lumbar belt” doesn’t have
the same ring as kidney belt. That
said, a kidney belt helps to stabilize
your upper body, support the mus-
cles of the lower back and tighten
your stomach muscles. Your back
muscles are most vulnerable in the
lumbosacral spine. This lowest part
of the back is the area most affect-
ed when riding motocross (as any
aching Vet rider can confirm). These
back muscles not only control bend-
ing and arching motions, but they
react against compression in G-outs
and hard landings. They can easily
become overpowered. Most back
pain radiates from the lumbar region.
Although the kidney belt is no
longer a fashion statement, it is still
a valuable piece of protective equip-
ment. It helps strengthen your core.
If your back hurts after a race, you
might want to try wearing a kidney
belt. Supporting your back muscles
helps them stay contracted and ready
for consecutive hits. Although not a
substitute for sit-ups, a kidney belt
can aid in your posture, resistance to
fatigue and post-race recovery.